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- GREYFRIARS BOB - 20/35 -
wasted on a moldy auld kirkyard and thrown on a dust-cart when he came to die.
Mr. Traill resented the imputation. "He'll no' be thrown on a dust-cart!"
The door was shut on the mocking retort "Hoo do ye ken he wullna?"
And there was food for gloomy reflection. The landlord could not know, in truth, what Bobby's ultimate fate might be. But little over nine years of age, he should live only five or six years longer at most. Of his friends, Mr. Brown was ill and aging, and might have to give place to a younger man. He himself was in his prime, but he could not be certain of living longer than this hardy little dog. For the first time he realized the truth of Dr. Lee's saying that everybody's dog was nobody's dog. The tenement children held Bobby in a sort of community affection. He was the special pet of the Heriot laddies, but a class was sent into the world every year and was scattered far. Not one of all the hundreds of bairns who had known and loved this little dog could give him any real care or protection.
For the rest, Bobby had remained almost unknown. Many of the congregations of old and new Greyfriars had never seen or heard of him. When strangers were about he seemed to prefer lying in his retreat under the fallen tomb. His Sunday-afternoon naps he usually took in the lodge kitchen. And so, it might very well happen that his old age would be friendless, that he would come to some forlorn end, and be carried away on the dustman's cart. It might, indeed, be better for him to end his days in love and honor in the Castle. But to this solution of the problem Mr. Traill himself was not reconciled.
Sensing some shifting of the winds in the man's soul, Bobby trotted over to lick his hand. Then he sat up on the hearth and lolled his tongue, reminding the good landlord that he had one cheerful friend to bear him company on the blaw-weary day. It was thus they sat, companionably, when a Burgh policeman who was well known to Mr. Traill came in to dry himself by the fire. Gloomy thoughts were dispelled at once by the instinct of hospitality.
"You're fair wet, man. Pull a chair to the hearth. And you have a bit smut on your nose, Davie."
"It's frae the railway engine. Edinburgh was a reekie toon eneugh afore the engines cam' in an' belched smuts in ilka body's faces." The policeman was disgusted and discouraged by three days of wet clothing, and he would have to go out into the rain again before he got dry. Nothing occurred to him to talk about but grievances.
"Did ye ken the Laird Provost, Maister Chambers, is intendin' to knock a lang hole aboon the tap o' the Coogate wynds? It wull mak' a braid street ye can leuk doon frae yer doorway here. The gude auld days gangin' doon in a muckle dust!"
"Ay, the sun will peep into foul places it hasn't seen sin' Queen Mary's day. And, Davie, it would be more according to the gude auld customs you're so fond of to call Mr. William Chambers 'Glenormiston' for his bit country place."
"He's no' a laird."
"Nae; but he'll be a laird the next time the Queen shows her bonny face north o' the Tweed. Tak' 'a cup o' kindness' with me, man. Hot tay will tak' the cauld out of vour disposeetion." Mr. Traill pulled a bell-cord and Ailie, unused as yet to bells, put her startled little face in at the door to the scullery. At sight of the policeman she looked more than ever like a scared rabbit, and her hands shook when she set the tray down before him. A tenement child grew up in an atmosphere of hostility to uniformed authority, which seldom appeared except to interfere with what were considered personal affairs.
The tea mollified the dour man, but there was one more rumbling. "I'm no' denyin' the Provost's gude-hearted. Ance he got up a hame for gaen-aboot dogs, an' he had naethin' to mak' by that. But he canna keep 'is spoon oot o' ilka body's porridge. He's fair daft to tear doon the wa's that cut St. Giles up into fower, snod, white kirks, an' mak' it the ane muckle kirk it was in auld Papist days. There are folk that say, gin he doesna leuk oot, anither kale wifie wull be throwin' a bit stool at 'is meddlin' heid."
"Eh, nae doubt. There's aye a plentifu' supply o' fules in the warld."
Seeing his good friend so well entertained, and needing his society no longer, Bobby got up, wagged his tail in farewell, and started toward the door. Mr. Traill summoned the little maid and spoke to her kindly: "Give Bobby a bone, lassie, and then open the door for him."
In carrying out these instructions Ailie gave the policeman as wide leeway as possible and kept a wary eye upon him. The officer's duties were chiefly up on High Street. He seldom crossed the bridge, and it happened that he had never seen Bobby before. Just by way of making conversation he remarked, "I didna ken ye had a dog, John."
Ailie stopped stock still, the cups on the tray she was taking out tinkling from her agitation. It was thus policemen spoke at private doors in the dark tenements: "I didna ken ye had the smallpox." But Mr. Traill seemed in no way alarmed. He answered with easy indulgence "That's no' surprising. There's mony a thing you dinna ken, Davie."
The landlord forgot the matter at once, but Ailie did not, for she saw the officer flush darkly and, having no answer ready, go out in silence. In truth, the good-humored sarcasm rankled in the policeman's breast. An hour later he suddenly came to a standstill below the clock tower of the Tron kirk on High Street, and he chuckled.
"Eh, John Traill. Ye're unco' weel furnished i' the heid, but there's ane or twa things ye dinna ken yer ainsel'."
Entirely taken up with his brilliant idea, he lost no time in putting it to work. He dodged among the standing cabs and around the buttresses of St. Giles that projected into the thoroughfare. In the mid-century there was a police office in the middle of the front of the historic old cathedral that had then fallen to its lowest ebb of fortune. There the officer reported a matter that was strictly within the line of his duty.
Very early the next morning he was standing before the door of Mr. Traill's place, in the fitful sunshine of clearing skies, when the landlord appeared to begin the business of the day.
"Are ye Maister John Traill?"
"Havers, Davie! What ails you, man? You know my name as weel as you know your ain."
"It's juist a formality o' the law to mak' ye admit yer identity. Here's a bit paper for ye." He thrust an official-looking document into Mr. Traill's hand and took himself away across the bridge, fair satisfied with his conduct of an affair of subtlety.
It required five minutes for Mr. Traill to take in the import of the legal form. Then a wrathful explosion vented itself on the unruly key that persisted in dodging the keyhole. But once within he read the paper again, put it away thoughtfully in an inner pocket, and outwardly subsided to his ordinary aspect. He despatched the business of the day with unusual attention to details and courtesy to guests, and when, in mid afternoon, the place was empty, he followed Bobby to the kirkyard and inquired at the lodge if he could see Mr. Brown.
"He isna so ill, noo, Maister Traill, but I wadna advise ye to hae muckle to say to 'im." Mistress Jeanie wore the arch look of the wifie who is somewhat amused by a convalescent husband's ill humors. "The pains grupped 'im sair, an' noo that he's easier he'd see us a' hanged wi' pleesure. Is it onything by the ordinar'?"
"Nae. It's just a sma' matter I can attend to my ainsel'. Do you think he could be out the morn?"
"No' afore a week or twa, an' syne, gin the bonny sun comes oot to bide a wee."
Mr. Traill left the kirkyard and went out to George Square to call upon the minister of Greyfriars auld kirk. The errand was unfruitful, and he was back in ten minutes, to spend the evening alone, without even the consolation of Bobby's company, for the little dog was unhappy outside the kirkyard after sunset. And he took an unsettling thought to bed with him.
Here was a pretty kettle of fish, indeed, for a respected member of a kirk and middle-aged business man to fry in. Through the legal verbiage Mr. Traill made out that he was summoned to appear before whatever magistrate happened to be sitting on the morrow in the Burgh court, to answer to the charge of owning, or harboring, one dog, upon which he had not paid the license tax of seven shillings.
For all its absurdity it was no laughing matter. The municipal court of Edinburgh was of far greater dignity than the ordinary justice court of the United Kingdom and of America. The civic bench was occupied, in turn, by no less a personage than the Lord Provost as chief, and by five other magistrates elected by the Burgh council from among its own membership. Men of standing in business, legal and University circles, considered it an honor and a duty to bring their knowledge and responsibility to bear on the pettiest police cases.
It was morning before Mr. Traill had the glimmer of an idea to take with him on this unlucky business. An hour before the opening of court he crossed the bridge into High Street, which was then as picturesquely Gothic and decaying and overpopulated as the Cowgate, but high-set, wind-swept and sun-searched, all the way up the sloping mile from Holyrood Palace to the Castle. The ridge fell away steeply, through rifts of wynds and closes, to the Cowgate ravine on the one hand, and to Princes Street's parked valley on the other. Mr. Traill turned into the narrow descent of Warriston Close. Little more than a crevice in the precipice of tall, old buildings, on it fronted a business house whose firm name was known wherever the English language was read:
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